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Whatever happened to the Tote Em In Zoo?

Andrew Dunn

George Tregembo, collector of animals and assorted worldly curiosities that became the Tregembo Animal Park, opened the Carolina Beach Road zoo in 1953. He originally called it the Tote Em In Zoo. It quickly became a child favorite, and remains a landmark to this day.

Tregembo died June 10, 2010, at the age of 88. Originally from Hallowell, Maine, Tregembo first came to North Carolina while in the Army and stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro.

He visited Carolina Beach and Fort Fisher while on a two-day pass and immediately loved the weather, said his son, Robert Tregembo.

After getting out of the Army and spending a few years running a zoo in Maine, George Tregembo moved to Wilmington in 1952 and soon founded the Tote Em In Zoo.

He started with less than a dozen animals and a collection of spear points, shrunken heads, masks and more that he had started while serving in the South Pacific during World War II.

Robert Tregembo, who currently owns and operates the zoo, said he began working with the animals when he was 5 years old.

One of the fondest memories he has with his dad, he said, is helping him take care of Matteau, an elephant who stood sentry at the front of the zoo from 1966 to 1991.

“She was like a part of the family,” Robert Tregembo said, noting that she needed near-constant attention. “Elephants are always into trouble.”

Though the family has kept ownership of the land since the zoo’s founding, it has not always operated it.

The family transferred control of the Tote Em In Zoo beginning in 1990 to a man named Jerry Brewer. He operated the zoo until 2003, when he decided to shut it down after a few years of declining revenues.

After hearing the news, George Tregembo, upset by the prospect of the zoo closing, came out of retirement to help his family restore the park, granddaughter Sherry Tregembo told the StarNews at the time.

The Tregembo family, who had leased the land to Brewer, took back full control of the zoo for the first time since 2000 and began months of renovations.

It re-opened in February 2004 as the Tregembo Animal Park, with a new emphasis on education.

Gone were many of the concrete cages that had held big cats and bears, leading People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to list the zoo as one of the country’s worst roadside zoos in 1998.

Instead, animals roamed in more of a park-like atmosphere. The zoo also expanded from 5 acres to 10 acres.

Now, the zoo is home to more than 75 species of animals, including a lion, tiger, nearly 30 monkeys, and many types of snakes and birds.

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7 Responses to “ Whatever happened to the Tote Em In Zoo?”

  1. On June 2, 2011 at 2:45 pm Mary Beth wrote:

    I came across this post while doing a google search on Tregembo Zoo. I was there yesterday with my daughter’s 1st grade class, the zoo is nothing like this article explained. The bears, lions, and most all larger animals were in very small concrete cages. The staff was not helpful what so ever, they acted more as though they were monitoring us. I just wonder if the zoo was visited before this article was published? These animals looked very malnourished, you could see the lion’s bones as he was laying on his CONCRETE floor… no grass for him to roam. Also, the camel had clumps of hair missing. I love reading the StarNews and MyReporter, I just hope that when these questions are answered all facts are being checked.

  2. On June 3, 2011 at 1:56 am anita russo wrote:

    I do want to comment on the last comment that was written I am 54 yrs. old and have lived here since 1965. and let me assure you if Mrs.Tregembo is still living then those animals could not receive better care ANYWHERE else, because she always loved and cared for each of those animals as if they were her own children why do you think they took the park back when it started being neglected by the other tenant? I also have a question does any one know how Monkey Junction got its name? Iv’e always heard monkeys once escaped from Tot-Em- In zoo and thats where they went.thanks for reading Anita

  3. On June 4, 2011 at 11:15 am TOM wrote:

    Monkey Junction was named before the Totem In Zoo was in business. There was an old gas station at the junction years ago that had a pet monkey out front. Hence, it became know as MOnkey Junction. I am not sure how long the station has been gone, but I am 55 year old and I don’t recall ever seeing it.

  4. On April 15, 2012 at 10:06 am nicki wrote:

    I was at this zoo YESTERDAY and let me tell you, the concrete cages all still exists. The monkeys were in what looked like small bird cages. The lions were laying on a concrete slab! You can throw peanuts at a bear, but only 1/5 of them actually get into the cage, which was also concrete.
    Whoever wrote this article really needs to go back to the zoo and take a second look around. The animals do look cared for health wise, but at the end of the day they are in living conditions that are equal to locking a human in a studio apartment. There is PLENTY of concrete on those ages as of April 14th 2012. A LOT of concrete and not a lot of grass.

  5. On March 19, 2013 at 9:28 pm Denise wrote:

    This is not a zoo it’s a jail for anmials . Large anmials such as tigers and bears should not be kept is small concert cages. The poor bear sits a cage smaller then my bathroom.. It’s a disgrace to even call it a zoo. I wish people would stop supporting it .

  6. On April 5, 2013 at 6:24 pm Edith wrote:

    Yeah, I went to that zoo in my 20’s (now in my 50’s) and saw the very sad elephant swaying back and forth constantly to keep his limbs moving. All 4 of his feet were chained to the ground all day so he could never walk. It looked me in the eyes as if to say “please help me.” To this day every time I see anything with an elephant on it, it reminds me of that day and that elephants face. I have talked of him lots over the years and now reading on here that he was chained down for almost 30 years makes me weep. How very sad.

  7. On August 26, 2016 at 6:46 am MikeC wrote:

    We took the Grandkids to the zoo yesterday. I did not see
    the concrete cages but there were metal cages with concrete floors in some. In general the amount of space given to some of the larger animals did not seem adequate. I know they need money to operate, but it is not a cheap day out. The cost for 3 kids under 12 and 3 adults was $ 64.00 plus buying peanuts and corn to feed the animals by the time we were done it was $70.00 dollars for about a 90 minute tour.

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